MULLICA TOWNSHIP — Embattled police Chief John Thompson has rescinded both his request to be put on paid administrative leave for six months and his application to the state pension system to retire Jan. 1.
Township Committee voted Tuesday night after an extended executive session to rescind Thompson’s paid leave, at his request, with Mayor Chris Silva and Committeeman Jim Brown abstaining.
Thompson was expected to be back on the job Wednesday, according to his attorney, Philip Burnham, who declined to comment further and did not return calls Wednesday about whether Thompson returned to the job.
The status of the 24-year veteran of the department remains unclear.
“I can neither confirm nor deny” he will be performing the job of police chief, said Township Solicitor CherylLynn Walters on Tuesday night. She could only say Thompson is authorized to be in Township Hall. “We are still wrapped up in resolving issues.”
Committeeman Larry Riffle, who heads up Public Safety and has oversight over the Police Department, said Wednesday he could not comment on whether Thompson was back on the job. He referred questions to township attorneys, who could not be reached for comment.
A spokesman for the state Department of Treasury confirmed Tuesday Thompson has contacted the agency about postponing his retirement.
“Mr. Thompson canceled his 1/1/2020 retirement on 7/3/2019,” the spokesman wrote in response to email questions.
It’s the latest twist in a saga involving an internal affairs investigation of Thompson, retroactive raises and rumors that Thompson was being forced out of the job.
Thompson’s attorneys have called the investigation frivolous and without merit, and a proposed settlement with him over the investigation was pulled from committee vote at the last minute in May.
In June, Township Committee announced it was increasing the chief’s salary retroactively to $128,500 from $113,500. Two weeks later, the committee approved his request to be put on paid leave through the end of the year, when he would retire.
Thompson, 44, grew up in Mullica and still lives there. He angered many in the community last year when he tried to fire Officer P.J. Sarraf, who has sleep apnea, and who lives in the township.
The clash over his attempt to fire Sarraf became personal to many who live there. An agreement was reached with Sarraf to allow him to continue on the job with some shift accommodations for his health issues, but only after a long legal battle.
Capt. Brian Zeck, son-in-law of Mayor Silva, had been acting chief since July 1 and was in line to become chief in January.
Silva has recused himself from votes regarding Thompson, but he was in charge of the Public Safety Department during the time negotiations over Thompson’s future heated up. He recently gave up oversight of Public Safety, which is now handled by Riffle.
Silva told residents who asked questions that the committee cannot comment on why Thompson changed his mind because it is a personnel matter. Silva recused himself from the executive session and the vote.
Middle Township police Chief Christopher Leusner, president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, was at Tuesday night’s meeting in support of Thompson.
“Our executive board has ... (been) briefed on the circumstances surrounding Chief Thompson,” Leusner said to the committee before the vote. “We believe it has statewide implications. We always hope to help mediate situations and get to a resolution everyone thinks is fair.”
Leusner declined to comment further on what those circumstances are.
“We’re pleased with the outcome,” Leusner said after the committee vote.